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Elana's Tale  by Elana

Chapter 9 – We Will Be Ready

Theodred and his men rode across the plain, bathed in silvery radiance. The full moon cast a light almost as bright as day, but eerie and drained of all color. The men were tired, but in their haste to return to their homes they had ridden far into the night. Soon they should break and get a few hours sleep before starting off again at dawn. But the ethereal beauty of the night beckoned them to ride just a few more miles.

They had come too late to the last town to be of any help. Orcs had burned most of it to the ground and fled before they arrived. They had helped the refugees as best they could, and tried to track the orcs back to their lair, but had lost the traces on the rocky ground. The orcs were getting much bolder recently. The raids were more frequent and more severe. And more and more women were being carried off. For years there had been the occasional disappearance, the odd midnight raid, but in the past few years they had greatly increased. The eored was frustrated and angry they had not been able to find any orcs to battle. Somewhere, surely, was their stronghold, but so far no one had been able to locate it.

Perhaps, Theodred thought, after the men were safely back in Edoras, he should ride again to Isengard and request help from Saruman. Although the last time he had sought the wizard’s help to scry for the hidden orc stronghold he had been given many fair words, but only vague and contradictory hints as to where to search, which had led to much long and fruitless effort. What good was it having a wizard for a neighbor if he couldn’t even use his magic to spy out a nest of orcs?

The night was silent except for the beat of the horses’ hooves and the jingle of their tack. The men were lost in thought. Theodred’s own thoughts returned to his constant preoccupation of late. His father was declining. The king was not such an old man, but to see his stooped and feeble form, one would think he was ancient. Where once his hand had been firm on the reins of government, now he let the country drift, all but leaderless. Theodred had done what he could, but his father’s pride was as strong as ever, and he refused to listen to criticism. His ear was only given to his counselor Grima, known to everyone but the king as Wormtongue. Theodred despised the man, blaming him for his father’s failing health. But Theoden would hear nothing against his favorite. In the silence of the night, Theodred felt close to despair. Rohan seemed doomed to falter and weaken, becoming easy prey for the orcs who grew ever bolder.

As if to match his bleak mood, the strains of a lament floated on the air. Unsure at first whether he truly heard it, or it was only a creation of his mind, Theodred listened. Louder the voice grew as they rode forward. For a moment Theodred felt they had wandered into a dream world, where unseen singers roamed the earth in the silvery light. He signaled his men to stop, and they sat on their horses, listening to the song that seemed to emerge from almost directly under their horses’ hooves. The men of the eored looked at each other uneasily, but none dared break the otherworldly mood as the last notes faded into the night.

But Theodred heard a quiet sob as the song died, and he knew in that moment that no unnatural creature cried out its grief, but a human woman. He swung down from his horse, and called out, “Who’s there? Speak! Where are you?”

From the ground at his feet, he heard a gasp, then a voice desperate with hope. “Here, I’m here. Can you help me? Please, please, help me!”

Following the sound of the voice, Theodred pushed aside some brush, to find hidden among some rocks a metal grate. He could just glimpse the outline of a pale face within. “I will help you if I can. Who are you, and how did you get down there?”

“I am Elana, a woman of Rohan, and I’m being held prisoner by orcs.” In a hushed but urgent voice, Elana poured out her tale.

Theodred was gripped with horror by what he heard. More than fifty women? A huge underground city of orcs? Half-human, half-orc babies? How long had the creatures been being bred, and how many of them were there, he wondered. Elana had mentioned that crossbreeds were among her captors, so some at least must be grown to maturity. He pictured what an army of the creatures could do to Rohan, and fear ran like ice through his veins. Here was the answer to many riddles that had puzzled him – the missing women, the increasing boldness of the orcs, the location of their stronghold. Exultation replaced his fear. They had found what they had sought so long – now at last they could act!

He knelt by the grate. Placing his hand on his sword hilt, he addressed the half-seen woman behind the grate. “I am Theodred son of Theoden King, Second Marshall of the Riddermark. I swear I will free you and your fellow captives, or die in the attempt.”

His men, who had come up and encircled him, let out a cheer. He motioned them to be quiet, fearful lest the orcs be warned of their presence. He questioned Elana closely about the location of the entrance and the layout of the tunnels. Though she knew little, he was able to piece together what she told him with his knowledge of the surrounding land, and form a good idea of where to search. She told him of the routine of her days, and he discovered that a few hours after noon all the women would be together in a single large room.

“That’s when we’ll make our move,” he told her. “Be ready.”

“We will be ready,” she promised.

Suddenly he was moved by her courage, to suffer such horrors for so long, yet to hold on to hope, and to be ready at his word to fight for her freedom. He stood, loath to leave her alone again in darkness. He saluted her, then leaped onto his horse and called his men to follow. Then they rode away to prepare for battle.

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